In the news today, ‘Nurul Izzah files private members bill to abolish Sedition Act‘ (TMI)
Last year Prime Minister Najib Razak had announced that the Sedition Act would be abolished.
P. Uthayakumar was recently sentenced to 2½ years jail on the charge of sedition. The Sedition Act 1948 provides for a penalty of up to three years’ jail for the first offence. The sentence meted out to Uthaya is stiff.
Uthaya was convicted in the KL Sessions Court for the contents of a letter which he wrote in his capacity as Hindraf legal advisor late 2007 to the then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Uthaya is now in Kajang prison. He was taken there immediately after the verdict was delivered and his sentence read out.
He is allowed a visit by his family once a month lasting about 45 minutes.
The last time his wife S. Indra Devi saw him, his head was bald (it seems in prison the head of male prisoners are regularly shaved).
On their next visit, his children want to pass him a belated Father’s Day card as they could not do so on the day when other ordinary families celebrated the occasion.
Indra said in the Kajang prison she could only talk to her husband through the transparent panel separating them. They communicate using the telephone (like what we see on TV).
This is different compared to when Uthaya was under ISA detention. According to Indra, in Kamunting the detainee’s family was allowed weekly visits and during those times, she could touch and hold her husband.
Indra also observed that the prison authorities allow Uthaya’s lawyer, ex-Kota Alam Shah state assemblyman M. Manoharan, an easier access to her husband than they allow her.
In addition to the monthly visits, Uthaya is permitted to make weekly phone calls to Indra lasting 15 minutes.
When Indra can hear his voice, her anxiety is temporarily allayed. But at other times she worries whether he has taken his medication as he is a diabetic.
She also said that she was told he slipped in the prison bathroom due to the drain clogging. Uthaya shares a crowded cell with 4-5 other prisoners.
The irony of Uthaya’s incarceration is not lost on Indra. Now he is “inside” with the criminals. As a lawyer and human rights activist, Uthaya had established Policewatch and taken up cases, many pro bono, for abused detainees in police custody.
Although Uthaya is appealing his sentence, Indra said that she is mentally prepared for the worst case scenario, which is that he may not be released until the complete jail term is up.
I said to her that I hoped his sentence would be reviewed and commuted.
I met her up last Saturday at the Human Rights Party office in Bangsar. Uthaya had given up his lease on the premises and the HRP staff were packing their office equipment to move to Klang where a well-wisher has temporarily loaned them some office space.
Youth chief S. Thiagarajan is holding the fort in Uthaya’s absence.
Indra said the core group of Uthaya’s loyal supporters and dedicated volunteers are lovely people who are there for her all the time. They have stayed steadfast because they believe in the just cause.
Indra said that Uthaya expected “rights not mercy” (the HRP slogan) and he had readied himself for the consequences of the court action, come what may.
“Kumar is a principled man,” she said. (His family calls Uthayakumar “Kumar” while the media call him “Uthaya”.)
Indra said she is proud to be his wife although she is immensely saddened by the ordeal that he and their family are being put through.
She recounted how Uthaya had once driven their children to Kamunting. Stopping the car outside, he pointed to the gates of the detention centre and told his daughters, “Appa will be in there.”
Indra is concerned and fearful for her husband’s safety. Two-and-a-half years separation is a long time. Berat mata kita memandang, berat lagi bahu mereka yang memikul.
She pointed out that Uthaya is being doubly punished as he had already spent 1½ years under ISA for the same offence. Taken together, both penalties added up to four years, Indra said.
Commenting on the letter to Gordon Brown, Hindraf national advisor N. Ganesan said, it was “a reflection of the genuine sentiments of Malaysian Indians who felt angry and oppressed by the unlawful demolitions of Hindu temples that was occurring prolifically in 2005-2007. The judiciary has to be sensitive to the true feelings of the people”.
I hope that when Uthaya’s appeal comes up for hearing, the fact that the man is a committed human rights advocate who raised legitimate issues for the sake of the people, would be a factor considered in mitigation.
Furthermore, Najib himself did say that the Sedition Act would be done away with.
Indra recalled how on polling day immediately after Uthaya had lost his bid for the Seri Andalas state and Kota Raja Parliament seats, they were walking to their car. Suddenly the phone rang. Someone had called up to ask for Uthaya’s help.
He sighed and they exchanged looks.
“The people need my husband,” Indra concluded.